Tucked in amidst all of the action hero and martial arts films made by Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus (the producers who brought the world the American Ninja series, the Delta Force films and the Death Wish sequels, among many others) can be found a neat little horror film called New Year’s Evil. Made in 1980, during the golden age of the slasher film, it is more than just an entry into the holiday-themed horror craze that ran rampant during the early eighties; it is an inventive twist on the serial killer movie.
New Year’s Evil stars Roz Kelly (who played Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie’s girlfriend on “Happy Days”) as Diane “Blaze” Sullivan, a punk rock T.V. personality who is hosting a televised New Year’s Eve party in Los Angeles. New wave bands play and phone lines are open for viewers to call in and vote for their favorite song of the year. Blaze answers a call from a weirdo (played convincingly by television veteran Kip Niven) who, calling himself “Evil,” says he is going to kill someone when midnight strikes in each time zone, culminating in the murder of Blaze at midnight in L.A. At first, Blaze shakes off the crazy call, but Evil calls back after the ball drops in New York with the location of the body of his first victim. Blaze starts taking the calls more seriously and extra security is brought in to protect her. Meanwhile, Evil carries out the rest of his plan over the course of the night, slowly but surely making his way closer and closer to Blaze. After each murder, Evil checks in with Blaze and the show, and she gets more and more frightened as midnight approaches. With the heightened police presence around the panicked star, Blaze is left to wonder not only if the psycho will get to her, but who is he and why has he singled her out?
New Year’s Evil was directed by Emmett Alston (who made movies with names like Force of the Ninja and Nine Deaths of the Ninja) and written by Leonard Neubauer (who wrote Black Snake with Russ Meyer). The hook is great; the killing at midnight in each time zone is a brilliant gimmick that creates a Groundhog’s Day feel every time Evil kills. Blaze and the police know it’s coming, yet they have to live through the same hour over and over until the killer inevitably ends up where he’s going. Evil is toying with Blaze, and that’s the fun of New Year’s Evil; he’s daring someone – anyone – to stop him.
One of the interesting aspects of New Year’s Evil is the film’s conscious decision to let the killer’s identity be known from the very beginning. The viewer sees Evil’s face right from his first call to Blaze, so the mystery is never who he is, but what does he want and what is his connection to Blaze. Evil is not a scarred up misfit or a mutant monster, he is a normal looking guy who blends in with his background. He goes through a few laughable disguises throughout the film – slapping on a fake mustache to seduce one victim and throwing on a pair of glasses to fool another – but, for the most part, he kills as he is. He’s not as scary as most slasher killers – partly because he’s just a normal guy and partly because his character isn’t written as well – but his easily detectable facade is creepy in a Ted Bundy kind of way. And, true to the reputation of the golden age of slasher films, he kills creatively and interestingly, using anything that he can find to aid him. He stabs, strangles and asphyxiates his way through the movie, until the conclusion where he reveals the special way in which he plans to dispatch Blaze. The ending is predictable and Evil’s motives are flimsy, but New Year’s Evil is a case of the journey being better than the destination. The ride is surprisingly fun.
The character of Blaze is not a typical horror heroine. Instead of the innocent, virginal victim, Blaze is self-absorbed and stuck-up. She neglects her son, mistreats her showbiz handlers and berates the police who are only trying to protect her. Her nasty persona generates little sympathy from the audience, and, by the end, they’re almost hoping that Evil succeeds in killing her. The absence of a likable protagonist detracts from the good vs. evil motif that usually exists in slasher films, but the villain-as-hero archetype comes into play. Although Evil is far from a Freddy Krueger or a Patrick Bateman, Blaze is not even close to a Laurie Strode.
New Year’s Evil is a slasher film, but it’s also a cool rock and roll movie, with a pumping soundtrack and the silly looking actors/musicians to back it up. Everything about the film is dated, from the music to the fashions, the dialogue to the hairstyles. New Year’s Evil emphasizes and exploits the new wave and punk scene of the early eighties, a scene that was every bit as much about the look as it was about the music. Much like Saturday Night Fever, the film functions as a time capsule – a snapshot of a culture that does not exist in that form anymore.
Of course, no rock and roll horror movie is complete without the music. The rock in New Year’s Evil is supplied by two very real bands – Made in Japan and Shadow. Neither could really be called new wave or punk bands (Made in Japan is more of a The Knack-y power pop band and Shadow borders on 70’s heavy metal), but both are obviously from the time period in which the film takes place. The theme song, done by Shadow and appropriately called “New Year’s Evil,” is incredibly infectious and plays over both the opening and closing credits as well as once during the course of the film. As if the song wasn’t catchy enough, hearing it three times in ninety minutes means that there is no way that this song will not get stuck in the viewer’s head. The incidental and mood music (composed by W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder, who also scored a handful of episodes of “In Search Of…”) is fairly typical Moog synthesizer suspense and stinger fare, but it works well in the context of the new wave slasher film. Between the rock and roll soundtrack and the electronic music score, New Year’s Evil’s music is one of the more memorable elements of the film.
On the surface, New Year’s Evil is just another holiday-exploiting horror film. But, viewed thirty years later, the movie is an amusing and entertaining look at a culture that is as dead as Evil’s victims.